We have spent two weeks on our own in Chiang Mai, which has given us the luxury of taking things slowly–no need to cram everything into just a few days, as is often the case for visitors here.
We have walked much of the old city, tried the food at the night markets and in many restaurants, visited the modern and trendy Nieman area, participated in the weekend walking streets, caught a ride to Doi Suthep, and took a tour to Chiang Rai. Through it all, we have been absorbing the life and culture of Chiang Mai.
We feel relaxed here, and very safe. In contrast to, say, Quito, Ecuador, where everyone (especially locals) warned us not to go out past 6:00 pm, to watch our belongings, and to avoid displaying any valuables including cameras, here everyone has told us to go out, walk, enjoy. And we have been. Even on the incredibly crowded weekend walking streets, where people are jammed together at times and you just have to go with the flow, people do. We haven’t heard raised voices, haven’t seen any altercations, haven’t ever felt in the least threatened. In the markets, we are not bombarded with pleas to look or buy. At our hotel, there are decent bicycles out front that we could use anytime for free. They sit outside, unlocked, all night long. No one seems concerned that they might disappear.
In the old city
This temple is most interesting for the fact that women are not allowed to enter it (well, that, and its exterior is adorned entirely in silver, a recent renovation that is an homage to the silversmithing practitioners in the area). At the gate, they sell tickets (50 baht, $2 CAD) but don’t tell you that, as a female, you aren’t welcome. We mentioned this to a Thai we met in the market later, and she was very surprised that a temple that disallowed women existed in Chiang Mai. I was glad to hear that this discrimination (based on beliefs) was uncommon.
Saturday and Sunday walking streets
The Saturday walking street is just south of the old city, and the Sunday walking street runs east-west almost bisecting it. Officially open for business (and closed to vehicles) at 6:00, booths are being set up by 4:00 and many are ready to sell by 5:00. Go early if you want to be able to walk at a normal pace. Go later if you don’t mind being crammed into tight spaces able to move at the molasses-pace of the crowd. Loads of wonderful food at good prices, clothing, handicrafts, and more.
We went on a Sunday afternoon to what is supposed to be a very busy market at the south of the city near the Night Bazaar. It was almost empty, and mostly non-perishable shops were open, possibly because everyone was getting ready to participate in the Sunday Walking Street or the Night Bazaar.
There are so many places to eat in Chiang Mai in and around the old city, where we are staying. Besides street food, here are some that we’ve tried and enjoyed:
- Tikky Cafe – You might have to wait a bit but the food is worth it. For a non-spicy-food person, the Glass Noodle Pad Thai with Shrimp was amazingly good and, so far, the favorite Khao Soi.
- Taste From Heaven (Vegan/Vegetarian) – We went with a group of 6 and everyone really liked their meals, spicy and non-spicy.
- Elliebum Cafe at the Elliebum Guesthouse.
- Salad Concept (Nieman) – Amazing build-your-own salads. We had green salads, which come with 5 toppings of your choice and one of their wonderful homemade dressings. 69 baht (less than $3 CAD) for a huge plateful of wonderful crispy goodness.
- Goodsouls Kitchen (Vegan/Vegetarian) – I had a wonderful falafel sandwich here (big enough to share), and Ken loved his veggie Khao Soi.
- Krua Kab Lob – Inexpensive and good food, photos on the walls, lots of stir-fries, fried rice and similar dishes.
- SP Chicken – A place Ken read about for crispy rotisserie chicken, we shared a whole (very small) one and it was moist and delicious. We ordered the bamboo shoot salad, which we didn’t care for as much.
- Fern Forest Cafe – We just went for the much-recommended coffee and cake. A little expensive, but a lovely cool shady garden area to hang out in for a while.
- Reform Kafe at the Green Tiger House (Vegan/Vegetarian) – lovely tropical ambience. We shared the mushroom burger (mushroom patty), which came in a whole wheat bun with lots of veggies, a salad on the side and country fries. We have also tried their Khao Soi (both spicy and mai ped, or non-spicy, versions) and Massaman curry. All were delicious.
Shave and a haircut … 2 bits?
Well, not quite, but Ken popped down the lane for a haircut and shave and came back looking quite spiffy after spending 180 baht (about $7.80 CAD).
A little Jazz
We made a quick stop at North Gate Jazz Co-op. No food, and the drinks are a little more than usual, but no cover and the music is free. Many people stand outside listening. Smoke from outside can fill the place up. It was OK upstairs looking over the balcony for the first part of the evening.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is an important temple about an hour away from Chiang Mai up the Doi Suthep mountain. There are many tours that go there, you can take a songthaew (one of the red truck taxis), call a Grab (Uber replacement here), or head up on a rented scooter.
Since we haven’t bothered with a scooter here, and we wanted to stop at more than one place, we hired a driver for a half day (common here, and typically about 1,000 baht, or $40 CAD). Our driver showed up in a very comfortable leather-seated late model SUV–quite a surprising ride for some of the tight spaces in the old town. The overhead camera system helped her to squeeze through several tight spaces without a scratch or broken mirror.
After a winding climb up the mountain, where we passed many hearty cyclists and a few hikers, we were dropped at the entry to the temple. We purchased tickets for the temple and lift (50 baht each, or about $2 CAD), but discovered that the lift ride is quite short so walking up the 300 stairs is certainly an option.
Once at the top, you remove your shoes at any of the many benches to wander around the temple area.
We collected our shoes and then wandered some of the outer areas so we could check out the views of Chiang Mai from this vantage point.
Our driver suggested we stop at what she called the Palace Temple
And now we are no longer alone, and are so excited to be able to share the next 12 days or so in Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta with visiting family.